~ And hey, if your wings are broken, borrow mine so yours can open too ~
If you’re a college student at Appalachian State, you’ve likely had the fortune of being insulted by Big Dan. His mere presence sends students running to their “safe-spaces”. He drives a Chevy that’s never had a muffler. You can hear it echoing around the hills before you see it. And when you see it, the first thing you notice is the confederate flag, mounted on the tailgate and waving defiantly at the crowd of upturned noses. Downtown Boone has a lot of upturned noses.
I’ve only known Dan for a few years. My parents bought a vacation home in the mountains not knowing they were purchasing it *and* intimacy with the neighbors, Dan being one of the more colorful. All well-meaning folk, but in typical mountain fashion, considered the goings on in our cabin highly important and checked in with a frequency for the long-suffering. We couldn’t step outside without seeing a half dozen hand-waving friends, stretched out on front porches all the way down the “holler”. And we were never without the benefit of someone’s fresh produce, eggs, or deer meat.
My parents sopped it up with typical flat-lander condescension, integrating seamlessly into the holler society; when they told a few prying ladies I was single, I was promptly invited to a house party. Jennifer was there, with long, sandy-brown hair, and the cutest mountain accent I’d ever heard. I might have fallen in love except for her tendency to prattle with her college buddies. I’ve never found lust for upward mobility attractive in females…
She was standing in a group with her boyfriend Brian, a bespectacled urbanite. He offered some derisive comment about the dirt path which was our main road through the cul-de-sac. His hipster-clad orbiters chuckled accordingly. They were all about my age so I ambled over. As a guest, I was obliged to join the conversation and asked what they were majoring in at the university. With a haughty air Brian launched into an explanation of the latest psycho-analytics at Appalachian State. He was involved in a clinical study to merge Eastern mysticism with pharmacology.
“We’re building on Strassman’s work with the psychedelic drug, DMT”, he said. “We’re convinced it has the ability to separate mind from body and, for a brief period, allows us to perceive different realities.”
In turn, I told them about my literary background with a focus in Southern classics. I joked that reading Gilmore Simms was also an out-of-body experience.
“Please,” chuckled Brian. “If it’s not Harry Potter, it’s not divine”.
Bored with my background and my humor, he returned to the DMT. Before he could say much, however, we all heard Dan’s truck pulling in.
“Oh!” Brian squealed… “Speaking of the divine, you all are going to love this! You’re about to meet a perfect case!”
“Leave him alone,” said Jennifer, grinning with knowing malice.
“But he’s so…quaint…” said Brian.
“He’s been in love with me since we were kids” Jennifer said. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“Didn’t he beat a pair of guys senseless?!” asked one of the orbiters.
“There were three of them” said Jennifer. “They were African Americans and one of them made a pass at me outside the grocery store. Dan was in the parking lot and heard them. They said Dan was a racist and attacked them unprovoked. I guess the magistrate didn’t think anyone, racist or not, would take three to one odds, but then again, he doesn’t know about Dan’s nickname…”
“Nickname?” asked one of the other orbiters.
Just then Jennifer’s dad yelled from the next room “…BIG DAN!”
“Hell yeah!” Dan yelled back, ducking through the door while giving the “yeah” two syllables.
“BIG DAN!” yelled some of the other men, raising their Coors in salute.
“Hell yeeeeeaaah!” he yelled back, clearly pleased by the ritual.
He was welcomed into the company with more happy shouts and more of the repeated answer. After making his rounds, patting old friends on the back, and exchanging rural pleasantries, he turned to our little group.
“Oh great, here he comes” said Jennifer, trying to avoid his gaze.
“Hey!” said Big Dan as he strolled up. “What ch’yall talkin’ ’bout?!”
He said it with a cheery grin – an expression I felt was common on his squared face. His slack-jawed friendliness bespoke a pure heart although I guessed these college kids would miss its virtue. They’d see poor Dan as an archetypical bumpkin.
“Oh Dan!” cried Brian, in mock excitement, “…we were talking about you. Jennifer was saying she wanted to hear about the angels!”
“Now is that right Jen?” asked Dan. “She usually don’t want to hear nothing I got to say about it” he grinned.
“Tell me!” she urged.
Always a happy topic for Dan, he told us about his mystical experiences in the corn field – explained how, after working a long day a few years back, he had seen a tall man walk up next to him.
“He said, Dan…like he knew me, see…everythin’s gonna be ok. You gotta believe me. The Lord is watchin’ you. He ’bout scared me half to death poppin’ up from th’other side of my truck like that. Then, he just walked out into the corn. I could see him walkin’ through and I’d swear his feet wont even touchin’ the ground. All the way to the other side, then he just flew. I don’t know how else to say it. He just flew up about twenty feet then disappeared. Dang’dest thing I ever seen. I been seein’ angels time ta time ever since.”
The little group was enjoying this.
“Well I don’t believe in angels” said Brian, “…but you know, some of our subjects have reported seeing intelligent beings as well. Not angels of course; our subjects are educated and have no need for those old myths, but their experiences using DMT are similar enough that my colleagues and I have to conclude they’re talking to…well…someone. If they all see the same beings, they can’t all be dreaming, can they? That has to mean they’re experiencing an objective reality beyond their subjective creations, yes?!”
“Now, take Dan here,” he continued…”…it’s likely Dan has an overactive pineal gland which causes him to have these spirit experiences.”
“I don’t know what that is” said Dan, “…but I’m seeing angels because it’s God’s will. He’s lookin’ after His lambs.”
“That’s cute”…said Brian under his breath. “You know, we’d love to have you drop by the clinic sometime. If you want to see angels, I can arrange it.”
“The ones I see aint no bad trip” said Dan, frowning. He took the angels seriously and I could tell Brian was treading on sensitive ground. “And you aint gunna be able to study no real angels in a science lab.”
“Oh please” Brian replied. “You’re just afraid.”
“Whoa, whoa. I aint afraid of nothing! I just don’t want to see angels unless the angels want to see me, if you know what I’m sayin’…and I don’t like drugs. I don’t even get drugs from my doctor, aint that right Clint?!”
Clint, Jennifer’s father, had ambled over to the group.
“That’s right,” he agreed. “Only drugs Big Dan needs are alcohol and sunshine.” Everyone laughed politely.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Brian continued, undaunted by the home-spun interruption. “I’ve even convinced Jennifer here, to participate in our study.”
Jennifer looked away from her father, shyly.
“You what?!” said Clint.
“Uh oh” said one of the orbiters.
The party broke up soon after. Jennifer’s friends were politely reminded of the time and soon both they and the other guests thinned out. Clint tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to stay. His house was right across from our cabin and he reasoned I could hang around a bit longer since I didn’t have far to go. He, Big Dan, and I sat on the front porch smoking cigars, watching the moon come up over the mountain, and sharing those humble anecdotes only southern men have a command of. Free from the pretensions of modernity, at one with life, satisfied with our place in it, and basking in the euphoria of the scene.
“…DMT can’t be better than crickets” said Big Dan.
I had to agree.
(Stay tuned for part II, where Big Dan’s angels are pitted against the best of modern degeneracy, and the mythic ‘rebel yell’ terrorizes the denizens of DMT land.)